FINDING A SERIES OR AN AUTHOR:

USING THE PAGE TABS (ABOVE) TO FIND A SERIES OR AUTHOR:

Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Denise Rossetti: THE FOUR-SIDED PENTACLE

Series: THE FOUR-SIDED PENTACLE (Erotic SMR Fantasy)
Ratings: V5; S4; H2-3
Publisher and Titles: 
   The Flame and the Shadow (2008) (Grayson and Cenda)
   Thief of Light (2009) (Erik and Prue)
   Laced with Desire (2010) (Rhio and Dancerset in the FOUR-SIDED PENTACLE world)
   The Lone Warrior (2011) (Walker and Mehcredi)

     I broke my own rule when I read The Lone Warrior without first checking to see if it is part of a series. But in this case, the author actually gives the reader permission to read it as a stand-alone. On her web site, Rossetti says, "Anything I write can be read as a stand-alone. Personally, I dislike hanging on and on and...on for the resolution at the very end of a series. That said, there are overarching motifs and of course, the world-building, which I make up as I go along. If you can, read my books in the order laid out below. If you can't, don't worry about it. You'll be fine - go ahead anyway. *smile*." 

     So...I'll review The Lone Warrior today, and then I'll go back and read the earlier books and update this blog entry at a later date with reviews of the earlier books.

     This is a fantasy world set in an imaginary land that seems to be a mash-up of ancient Turkey (pashas), North Africa (desert nomads), and Medieval Europe (keeps and feudal lords). In
The Lone Warrior, the hero is Walker, a sword master and shaman who can pull power from the earth. The heroine is Mehcredi, a newbie captured by Walker in the opening scene. Mehcredi was hired by the  villainous Necromancer to kill a powerful mage, but she mistakenly poisoned an innocent who happens to be one of Walker's good friends. Walker drags Mehcredi back to his home (the House of Swords) and punishes her by forcing her into servitude. Walker starts out hating Mehcredi, of course, as does everyone else in his household. But gradually, Mehcredi wins people over with her blunt and honest approach to life and her seeming inability to tell a lie. 

     Mehcredi has had a terrible life: an orphan from birth, a child slave, a magnet for male abuse, and finally a failed assassin.  By the way, I've read a few reviews of this book, and each reviewer has failed to understand the reason why the Baron of Lonefell turned his back on Mehcredi from the time that he first saw her, immediately after her birth. Pay particular attention to the first few paragraphs of the Prologue as the olive-skinned Baron gazes down at his ivory-skinned, rosy-cheeked daughter, then looks over at his olive-skinned wife, and then stares out the window at his pale-skinned, platinum-blond sergeant of the guard. Rossetti lets us imagine the whole story in just a few subtle sentencesbut you must read very carefully.

     Walker has his own problematic past. His life is dedicated to wreaking vengeance on the diablomen (demon-possessed) who wiped out his entire tribe, the Shar. Walker has killed all but one of them, and he's on the trail of the last one. 

     When Walker gets word that his final enemy, a pasha, has left the safety of his palace, he takes Mehcredi along with him on his journey, andnaturally enoughthey fall in lust. Make no mistake, Rossetti is a writer of erotica, so you can expect plenty of graphically depicted sensuality.

     Over and above the Walker-Mehcredi relationship, the plot revolves around an insurgency of djinns. Usually, djinns are portrayed as spirits from a parallel world to mortal earth, but these particular djinns have arrived from a slightly different place.

     Supporting characters are the couples from the previous books, all of whom have magical talents, from flame throwing to casting spells. One character who seems to be common to all of the books is Deiter, a powerful wizard and a bit of a jerk. The series title refers to a living, magical pentacle with its sides formed by three of the supporting characters, each of whom can control an element: air, earth, and flame. The person who will be the fourth side (water) is still to be determined.

     If you enjoy fantasy and erotic romance, you will probably like this book. Rossetti tells a good story, and her characters have enough depth to keep the reader interested in their lives. The dialogue can be disconcerting at times as it is filled with phrases that are right out of the 21st century, but there are also archaic words, such as trews (for trousers). It's almost as if the author couldn't quite make up her mind about the time frame. Other than that, however, the dialogue seems natural and believable. Mehcredi's back story is a bit melodramatic. For example, when she was an infant, she was left alone for days but still survivedkind of implausible, but then, this is a fantasy.

     I'm looking forward to reading the earlier books, and I'll let you know more about them in the near future.   

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Graham Joyce: "The Silent Land"

Author: Graham Joyce
Title: The Silent Land (Otherworldly Suspense)
Ratings: V2; S4; H2
Publisher: Doubleday (2010)

     I have to say right from the beginning that this book is not paranormal fiction. So, why, you say, is it being reviewed on a paranormal fiction blog? Well..simply  put, it's a great read and it does have a heavy touch of other-worldliness to it—no supernatural creatures, but it does have an element of fantasy and just a touch of creepiness. This is a compelling story, one that will keep you reading into the night, and looking over your shoulder every once in awhile.

     When Zoe and Jake go out on a mountainside in the Pyrenees early one winter morning, they believe that they will spend this, the second day of their ski vacation, slaloming down the slopes. Their dream of a perfect day is shattered, however, when an avalanche catches up with them and buries them in the snow. After freeing themselves, they head back to their hotel only to find it completely deserted—not a single person anywhere. The near-by village is also empty of humanity, seemingly evacuated at a moment's notice. Zoe and Jack make themselves comfortable, warming up in a steamy bath and fixing a meal in the hotel kitchen. The next day, they try to drive to a neighboring town, only to go off the road, almost over a cliff. They try again the next day, but the road brings them back to where they started. No one answers the phone, no matter who they call. Candles that they light one evening still burn brightly the next evening. And the story gets stranger and stranger from there.

     Zoe and Jake have been married for ten years and love each other tremendously, but they have had rough spots over the years.  At first, they seem to be an average, uncomplicated couple: Jake, the practical protector and Zoe, the optimistic achiever. But as their adventure and their touching love story stretch out over the days, we take a closer look and begin to see them as  complex and interesting individuals. Joyce handles their dialogue in a believable, natural manner, with both humor-filled banter and serious conversations ringing true. Each character is presented sympathetically, with both strengths and imperfections.

     Most of the chapters deal with Zoe and Jake's adventures on the mountain, but two chapters tell the stories of final days of each one's father. Both of these chapters attempt to answer the question, what exactly is death? These sections are powerful and eloquent explorations of the unknowability of death and the hereafter.

     Although you, like Zoe and Jake, may begin to figure out what is happening, you probably won't see the total reality of the ending until the moment that Zoe herself suddenly understands the situation. As the couple gradually figures things out, they become stronger, more mature, more loving people, each striving to help the other make it through to whatever their ending will be.

     Joyce's matter-of-fact-prose moves along straightforwardly, yet it has a dreamy quality to it, catching us up in the frosty mist and the swirling winds. Tension mounts subtly, with no one event pushing our fear button, but as the characters' uneasiness grows so does ours. The bittersweet ending is enough to bring even the most hard-hearted reader to the edge of tears.

     And speaking of endings: I know that some of you are addicted to reading the ending of a book first, but I'm begging you not to do that with this one. If you do, you really will spoil the story for yourself, and you'll be sorry for that.

     Joyce, a science fiction/fantasy author, has written 12 previous works of fiction for adults (including The Tooth Fairy, How to Make Friends with Demons and The Limits of Enchantment) and several for young adults. This is the first of his books that I have read, but based on the quality and style of The Silent Land, I plan to read more.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nice Review of "Fang-tastic Fiction"

Here is another nice review of my book, Fang-tastic Fiction

This one is on the web site for VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocacy, the library magazine serving those who serve young adults). 

Click HERE to go directly to that review, the second one on the page.

Keri Arthur: MYTH AND MAGIC SERIES

Author:  Keri Arthur
Series:  MYTH AND MAGIC 
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) 
Publisher and Titles:  Dell
          Destiny Kills (2008)
          Mercy Burns (2010)       

            WORLD-BUILDING            
    In this world, shape-shifting air dragons exist in 13 cliques alongside, but unknown by, mortals. Sea dragons, on the other hand, live as individuals, not in cliques. Each clique is ruled by a king, and, as you would expect, each king has his own way of dealing with the power and wealth that accompany his officesome worse than others. Alongside the dragons live the half-breed dramans, mostly born of dragon fathers and human mothers. In the world of air dragons, the male gets to decide whether his sperm will impregnate his female partner, while with the sea dragons, the female gets to decide.

            NOVEL 1:  Destiny Kills            
     As the series opens, Destiny McCree, a half-breed air-sea dragon, wakes up on an Oregon beach next to the dead body of her friend and lover, Egan Jamieson, the son of the king of the Jamieson clique. Destiny has gaps in her memory, but she soon begins to recall details about her past. As it turns out, Destiny was captured and held captive for eleven years in Scotland (on the banks of Loch Ness) by cruel scientists who consider the shape-shifting dragons to be animals fit only to be drugged and studied. Eventually, Destiny and Egan escaped, but were pursued by hunters who killed Egan. Now, Destiny is on the run. As she is making her escape, she almost literally collides with Trae Wilson, Egan's half brother, who is searching for Egan. Trae is a dramanhalf human and half air dragon. The two soon strike a mutually beneficial deal. Trae agrees to help Destiny get to her dying father in Maine and then assist her in rescuing her mother and some young dragons from the Scotland prison laboratory. In return, Destiny agrees to hand over Egan's serpent ring to Trae so that he can trade it to his malevolent father for information about his missing sister. The plot sound convoluted, but it's really not that hard to follow. Of course, Trae and Destiny fall in love along the way.

            NOVEL 1:  Mercy Burns            
     The second book features Trae’s half-sister, Mercy Reynolds, who is a draman (half human, half air dragon). Mercy lives in San Francisco, where she is an investigative newspaper reporter. As the story opens, Mercy and her BFF, Rainey (a sea dragon), are trying to solve the mystery of the murder of Rainey's sister in an ethnic-cleansing type of crime in which an entire village of rogue draman was wiped out. When their car is run off a cliff by a truck, Rainey dies and Mercy must track down and punish her murderer within seven days in order to send Rainey's soul on to its final rest. Moving ahead with her investigation, Mercy finds herself drugged and imprisoned by some mysterious men. When Mercy and her fellow prisoner, Damon Rey, escape, they discover that they are working on the same case. Damon is a muerte (the Spanish word for death), an assassin who works for the Dragon Council, which oversees the 13 cliques and which is....wait for it...terribly corrupt. Didn't you see that coming? Those supernatural councils are ALWAYS corrupt! As their investigation proceeds, the sparks begin to fly—sometimes literally—in Mercy and Damon's relationship. We don't meet the primary villain until the end of the book (most of the dirty work is done by his minions), but Mercy is disturbed to discover that the case has ties to her troubled past. 

     The relationship between dragons and draman is at the heart of the story. Mercy has had a rough childhood as a draman growing up in a dragon clique where draman are considered to be second-class citizens and where female draman are at the mercy of the macho male dragons—and she has the scars to prove it. Damon has always gone along with the party line on draman: that they are not to be trusted, that they put the dragon world at risk of discovery by humans, and that their powers should probably be curtailed. Naturally enough, the couple must work through this culture clash before they can achieve their HEA ending.

     I'm hoping that Arthur eventually tells Leith's story. This sea dragon is Mercy's private detective friend whom we hear in a series of telephone conversations but never see. He gets his information from hacking into computer systems and from his assistant, Janelle, a gifted psychic.

     Keri Arthur is a master story teller who excels in both the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genres. In this series, she has created complex, likable characters and has put them into fresh and inventive plots. The inevitable angst is always there, but not so much that it overwhelms the plot. And don't forget the bedroom scenes, which are always hot high points in Arthur's stories. All in all, this is a terrific paranormal romance series, and I read each book in one sitting. One thing I especially liked about both books is that the heroines can take care of themselves. They can handle a weapon, and they can fight back with their dragon powers, and they're not afraid to do so. These ladies are definitely not the shrinking violets that we so often find in paranormal romances.

     If you haven't read Arthur's RILEY JENSON, GUARDIAN urban fantasy series, you might want to give that a try. Riley is a dhampirehalf werewolf and half vampire enforcer, or Guardian, who lives in Melbourne, Australia (where Arthur also lives). 

     Arthur has a new series coming out this fall (DARK ANGELS) that includes some of Riley's Melbourne world. Here is Arthur's description of DARK ANGELS from her FAQ page"Next up is Risa’s series. Risa is Dia’s little girl in Riley’s series, and now she’s getting her own. This one will explore the Aedh (the race Quinn and Risa come from) as well as reapers and demons. There will still be vamps, werewolves and shifters, as it’s set in the same world, but they just won’t be as front and center as they were in Riley’s series." Darkness Unbound will be published in September, followed by Darkness Rising in October, and Darkness Devours in early 2012.

Friday, May 27, 2011

WSJ: "The Season of the Supernatural"

Check it out! 

Today's Wall Street Journal has a great summer paranormal fiction article: The Season of the Supernatural.

Click on the title above to go directly to the article.

New MTV Werewolf Series: TEEN WOLF

Attention all werewolf fans!  

Don't forget that June 5th is the big day for the premier of the brand new MTV series Teen Wolf. This series is based very loosely on the 1985 Michael J. Fox movie of the same name. Click on the pink links below to get further info:

A NY Times Magazine article about the series: "We Are All Teenage Werewolves"    

The web page for the series, which contains both information and sneak-peek videos: Teen Wolf

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jenna Black: NIKKI GLASS/DESCENDANTS SERIES

Author:  Jenna Black
Series:  NIKKI GLASS/DESCENDANTS SERIES
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
          Dark Descendant (4/2011)
          Deadly Descendant (4/2012)
          "Pros and Cons" (e-novella, 2/2013)
          Rogue Descendant (4/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 7/23/13 to include reviews of the first novella and the third novel in the series: "Pros and Cons" and Rogue Descendant. Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and reviews of novels 1 and 2::

          E-Novella: "Pros and Cons"          
     This novella focuses on a case that Nikki solves as part of her human job as head of her own detective agency. She is trying to avoid Anderson, so she uses the case to keep her away from Anderson's mansion as much as possible. The events that take place in this story do not involve the series story arc (i.e., the feud between Anderson's Liberi group and the Olympians), but are more "police procedural" in nature, as Nikki uncovers clues and follows them to the next phase of her investigation.

     Nikki's client is an attractive young woman who wants Nikki to locate a man she met in an upscale bar and with whom she had a one-nighter, with pregnant results. Of course, the woman's story isn't quite that simple or straightforward, and when Nikki unravels the real facts of the case, she finds it necessary to bring in one of her fellow Liberi to assist her.

     The story is well plotted, with details trickling out one by one as events move along to an unpredictable ending. At the moment, the Kindle cost of the novella is just 99 cents, and at that price, it's worth the read. This novella won't work as an introduction to the series because it does not include anything about the series mythology.

          Novel 3:  Rogue Descendant         
     As the story opens, Nikki is still trying to avoid Anderson, because she knows that Anderson wants her to track down Konstantin Galanos so that Anderson can kill him for the rape and 10-year-long imprisonment of his wife, Emma. Unsurprisingly, Konstantin's brutal treatment of Emma turned her into an angry, bitter woman who trusts no one. At the end of the previous book, Emma left Anderson and joined the Olympians, who are now headed by Cyrus, Konstantin's son. 

     The primary story line focuses on a series of actions taken against Nikki and her family by Konstantin, or by Emma, or by someone else—that's the main mystery. First, the home of Nikki's foster parents is burned to the ground, with a follow-up e-mail to Nikki from Konstantin warning her that this is just the beginning. Then more attacks follow, both on Nikki's property and on her person, but this time someone else is implicated. Who is the villain? I have to say that I partially figured it out early on, but that was based on gut instinct, not on any stray clues in the narrative. Black is very good at plotting, and she keeps this one completely under control.

     In a secondary story line, Nikki tries to mend fences with Jamaal, who is still struggling to control his Death God rages. Instead of losing his temper, Jamaal has constructed Sita, a fierce, illusionary tigress who drains his anger, but who is bitingly real when Jamaal brings her to life. Unfortunately, Sita is insanely jealous of Nikki's relationship with Jamaal, and Nikki is not safe when Sita is summoned to the real world. Once again, Nikki and Jamaal almost reach consummation, but then....well, I won't spoil the scene for you. I'll just say that I'm not sure that it will ever happen.

     At this point in the series, Nikki is one of the few who know Anderson's true identity and the powers that come with it, and in this book, she gets to see those powers in action once again. The possibility of a romance between Nikki and Anderson glimmers in the background, but for the moment, she's still very much attracted to Jamaal, and she continues to fear Anderson and his terrible powers.

     This book is a solid addition to a terrific series. Thankfully, the heroine is smart and brave and tends not to have any TSTL moments (what a relief!). The supporting cast is interesting, with a wide variety of back stories and magical powers. I don't recommend this book as a stand alone because of its many references to events in previous books. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

          WORLD-BUILDING          
     In this very interesting world, which is set in an alternate Washington, D.C., two rival groups of immortals vie for power. Both groups call themselves Liberi Deorum, which is Latin for "children of the gods" because their ancestors were the gods of various cultures. One groupthe Olympiansbelieve that they are the master race of the Liberi because they accept only Descendants of the Greek gods, whom they believe are far superior to the rest of the theistic panoply. The other Liberi group is much more diverse because it accepts Descendants of the gods of all cultures. 

     Each Liberi is marked with a holographic glyph that represents his or her ancestral god or goddess and can be seen only by another Liberi. Each Liberi also has a unique magical power that corresponds to his or her godly ancestor. The good guys are led by Anderson Kane, a powerful immortal (but not a Liberi) with a mysterious personal history. In the first two books, the haughty Olympians are led by the evil Konstantin Galanos, whose ancestral god is the fiery Helios. In essence, Anderson's group believes that the Liberi should use their supernatural powers to help make the world a better place, while the Olympians believe that they should spend their time purifying the ranks of the Liberi, which to them means purging all Descendants and Liberi who are not Greek in origin. "It had always been the Olympian policy under Konstantin that when they discovered a family of Descendants, they would kill them all, except for children under the age of five, who would be raised to believe in the Olympian ideal—and would later be used as lethal weapons against other Liberi." (Rogue Descendant, p. 18)

     Here is a brief explanation of the history of the Descendants, as explained to our heroine: "A long time ago, when the ancient gods were still around, they had children with mortals. Before the gods left Earth, they gave each of their children a seed from the Tree of Life. This seed made them immortal, and the Liberi thought they were gods themselves as a result. The only limitation they hadas far as they knewwas that they couldn't make their own children immortal....What the first Liberi didn't know until too late was that anyone with even a drop of divine bloodin other words, all their children and Descendants—could steal their immortality by killing them." (Dark Descendant, p. 41) In other words, if a mortal Descendant of the gods steals a seed by killing a Liberi, he or she will achieve immorality by becoming a Liberi. So, a Liberi can be permanently killed only by a Descendant, who then becomes a Liberi. If a human or another Liberi kills a Liberi, the death is only temporary, and the dead Liberi will come back to life. This life-death-resurrection cycle happens to several Liberi, including the heroine, during the course of the series.

     Both the Olympians and Anderson's Liberi are always on the lookout for Descendants and unallied Liberi. The Olympians try to coerce Greek Descendants and Liberi into joining them, but they generally kill the non-Greek ones, whom they believe to be weak and worthless. Anderson's group tries to save all Descendants and Liberi, creating fake personal records to hide them from the Olympians.   


     Jenna Black also writes the MORGAN KINGSLEY series (5 books, UF) and the GUARDIANS OF THE NIGHT series (4 books, SMR), as well as the FAERIEWALKER series for young adults.

          BOOK 1:  Dark Descendant          
     Into this world stumbles our heroine, Nikki Glass, who is a talented private detective with excellent tracking skills. As the story opens, Nikki is in the middle of a case in which her client (Emmitt Cartwright) wants her help in saving his girlfriend from a religious cultor at least that is the story he tells her. One dark and stormy night, Emmitt asks Nikki to meet him at the cult's residence, and she uneasily does so, only to fall into a terrible trap that changes her life forever. Nikki finds herself in the middle of a small group of crazies who claim to be descended from gods and goddesses and who blame her for Emmitt's death. After they brutally beat her up, they throw her in a prison cell, accusing her of being an Olympian spy. Eventually, some of them soften towards Nikki, but by this time she wants no part of them, even after they tell her all about the Descendants and the Liberi and tell her that she is one of them (a Descendant of Artemis) and is now immortal. Oh...and they claim that they are the good guys. Right! Nikki's too smart to believe that!

     After escaping from the Anderson's Liberi, Nikki is soon approached by a strange and unpleasant man who threatens that if she doesn't join the Olympians, they will harm her sister. What's a girl to do? Both sides want her superior tracking skills, and both sides are violent, rude, and cruel, but Nikki knows that she can't keep her sister safe by herself. The rest of the plot involves Nikki's first task for the group she chooses: finding the wife of the group's leader, who has been imprisoned for ten years by the opposition.

     This first book is filled with lots of expositional material. We learn all about the characters we'll be seeing in future books, and we learn the history of both groups. We also look back at Nikki's very sad childhood, in which she was abandoned by her mother and then dumped into a series of foster homes. Finally, Nikki was adopted by the wealthy Glass family and considers Steph Glass as her true sister. Just one discordant note here: Why does Nikki call her adoptive parents Mr. Glass and Mrs. Glass? That seems a bit formal, doesn't it?

     Many of the characters (on both sides) are truly unpleasant. They have lots of power, and they're not shy about using it, particularly on people they don't trust. Even after Nikki saves the day, so to speak, in the climax of the story, they still don't trust her completely. But then again, she doesn't fully trust them either. 

     I love the fresh and inventive world that Black has built here, though some parts are a bit confusing. The whole business about who is immortal and who isn't is not always made clear. And also, how can Anderson's Liberi be considered the good guys since they are immortal (meaning that they took someone else's immortality by killing them)? What's "good" about that? One last nitpick about continuity: At first, Nikki's glyph is on her forehead (p. 39), but then it's on her hand (p. 41). Which is it? Even with those complaints, I did enjoy Dark Descendant and am looking forward to the next book. I believe that I spotted the very beginnings of an attraction between Nikki and her primary nemesis, at least I hope so, because that would be an extremely interesting relationship. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

          BOOK 2:  Deadly Descendant          
     As the second book opens, Nikki is beginning to settle in at Anderson's mansionthe headquarters for his group of Liberi good guys, but she still feels like an outsider. In the first chapter, the Olympian oracle pays a visit the mansion to reveal a vision about a serial killer who is using a pack of dogs (rabid jackals, as it turns out) as a weapon to kill humans. The oracle senses that this is a supernatural murderer and asks for Anderson's help in tracking him downor more specifically, Nikki's help, because of the superior tracking skills that come from Nikki's ancestor, Artemis. As Nikki investigates the case, she is assisted by Jamaal, who spent book 1 trying to kill her because she killed his best friend. As they work together, their relationship warms up—sometimes to a fiery degree. During one attempt to catch the killer, Nikki gets bitten by the jackals and goes through a horrendous life/death/life experience.

     In the meantime back at the mansion, Emma (Anderson's wife) is causing lots of problems. Even though Nikki rescued Emma from her 10-year imprisonment by Konstantin, Emma hates Nikki and accuses her of trying to take Anderson away from her. Emma also fights constantly with her husband about his hesitancy about going after Konstantin for what he and his Olympians did to Emma. The situation between Emma and Nikki gets so bad that Nikki contemplates leaving Anderson's group for good. Emma's character reminds me of Rayseline in Seanan McGuire's OCTOBER DAYE series. Both characters are kidnapped by an enemy, held for a long period of time, and return as jealous and malevolent harridans who do their best to undermine their husbands.

     The two story lines—savage jackals and spiteful wife—are interwoven and are both tied up at the conclusion of the book after the requisite climactic showdown between Nikki and the killer. By the end, Nikki's love life is still a question mark, but now there are now two possible contenders: Jamaal and Anderson. Actually, this book frequently reads more like a paranormal romance than an urban fantasy as it places Nikki into frequent emotionally intimate scenes with both romantic contenders. The action plot isn't quite as strong as the one in book 1, and it sometimes seems rushed and secondary to the romance.

     In general, though, this is a solid follow-up to book 1, and it (thankfully) adds some clarification to the mythology. Regarding the question of just who is immortal: The Liberi are immortal (not the Descendants), which means that the Liberi do not age and they can heal from most wounds and illnesses, but they can be killed if enough violence is used against them. A Descendant who kills a Liberi receives the dead Liberi's seed of immortality. The magical talents of the newly created Liberi are those that come from his or her ancestral god or goddess, not those of the dead Liberi who was the source of the seed. Click HERE to read the prologue and chapter 1.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Christine Feehan: LEOPARD SERIES

Author: Christine Feehan
Series: LEOPARD SERIES 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publishers and Titles:
        Fever (Berkley, 2006, reprint: contains both the .5 novella, “The Awakening,” and novel 1, Wild Rain)
        Wild Rain (novel 1Jove, 2004)
        Burning Wild (novel 2Jove, 2009)
        Wild Fire (novel 3Jove, 2010)
        Savage Nature (novel 4Jove, 2011)
        Leopard's Prey (novel 5Jove, 2013)
        Cat's Lair (novel 6Jove, 5/2015)
        Wild Cat (novel 7Jove, 11/2015)
        Leopard's Fury (novel 8Jove, 10/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/8/16 to include a review of Wild Cat, the seventh novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, brief summaries of the prequel story and the first four novels, and full reviews of novels 5 and 6.

                         NOVEL 7:  Wild Cat                         
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Passions explode like wildfire when a young woman’s feral instincts are ignited by a man who’s too dangerous not to desire… 

     A simple request for Siena Arnotto: deliver a gift to her grandfather’s friend. One look at Elijah Lospostos, hard-bodied and stripped to the waist, and Siena succumbs to a feline stirring she never felt before, and to Elijah’s reckless and pleasurable demands. But when that pulse-throbbing moment ends in the murder of an unexpected intruder, Elijah accuses the shaken and confused Siena of setting him up. 

     Then Siena discovers the truth of her Leopard heritage, of the secrets in her grandfather’s inner circle, and the sinister plot of revenge that has put her in jeopardy. When Siena’s grandfather is assassinated, she realizes the only man she can trust is Elijah. Now as her Leopard rises from within, Siena and Elijah share not only an animal instinct for survival—but a desire so raw and wild it may be the only thing that can save them. 

MY REVIEW: 
     By the end of the second chapter, our virgin heroine, Siena, has been essentially raped by Elijah (the hero), who then calls her a sexual amateur and a whore and throws her—naked—out of his house. Then, when she manages to get herself home, Paolo, her grandfather’s bodyguard calls her a slut and gives her a terrible beating. When Siena goes to her grandfather for help, he tells her to get over it, “You must forgive Paolo…You will need a man. Paolo wants to be that man and I want that for you.” Yes, it’s yet another of Feehan’s anguished “love” stories in which a virginal, naïve, uninformed female leopard shifter is completely dominated by all of the men she encounters—frequently in violent, degrading ways. 

     When Siena has trouble recovering from her violent, date-rape encounter with Elijah, he tells her that he has apologized, so she needs to let it go. When she tells him that she can’t erase the experience and his hurtful words from her memory, he says “I told you I didn’t mean them, That should be enough.” In fact he essentially blames it on her, telling her that “You made me lose control…It was because you made me crazy for you.” (This is a prime example of male spousal-abuse rationalization.) Here’s an example of Elijah’s verbal foreplay: “You aren’t leaving me. You try running and I’ll hunt you down, bring you back and tie you to my bed until you see reason. Don’t think for one minute I won’t find you.” Here’s another example: “You need to f***ing do what you’re told and stop arguing with everything as I say…You can’t defy me. That isn’t going to work. You just have to yield.” Even Elijah’s friend, Drake, tells Elijah that he is going too far and that he’s acting like a caveman. And what are Siena’s thoughts about Elijah’s abusive behavior? Here, she muses about him after he physically carries her away from a situation that she didn’t want to leave: “When she’d accepted him, made the decision to be his, she’d gone into it with her eyes open about him…She saw the dominant in him. If she was his woman, the one for him, she had to accept that in him as well.” (This is the typical rationalization of an abused spouse.) Although Siena does make a few lame attempts to stand up for herself, Elijah generally responds to these brief feisty episodes either by taking her quickly and roughly to bed or by choosing to view her behavior as adorably amusing. 

     If you read Cat’s Lair, you will recognize that the plot of Wild Cat is pretty much a carbon copy. The good-guy hero is living an undercover life as a bad guy, and the heroine is a leopard shifter who has never been told that she is a leopard and doesn’t realize that she is approaching her time of mating heat. What’s the problem with the older leopard women in this series (whom, by the way, we never get to meet)? Why don’t they ever explain the facts of leopard-shifting life to these young women? 

     What is most appalling about this series is that Feehan gives us heroines who suffer from such low self-esteem and self-respect that they view the bullying behavior of their mates as an exemplar of love. Elijah is a duplicate of Eli (hero of Cat's Lair) in his behavior toward his mate. He screams curses at her, bullies her, forces her to do everything—and I mean everything—his way, and basically takes over her life completely. At first, I got my hopes up because Siena resisted Elijah’s actions, but she soon succumbs and begins minimizing his horrific behavior as “bossiness.” In one scene, Siena and the heroines of the past two books compare notes on their adorably bossy husbands, rationalizing that their big, handsome, overbearing mates behave that way because they just want to protect their women. 

     Ninety percent of the book deals with Elijah’s sexual possession of Siena—lots of extremely graphic bedroom scenes with an overload of oral sex. The remaining ten percent is the feeble action plot in which two sets of bad guys are trying to kill Elijah and Sienna. Although there are a few minor attacks scattered throughout the book, the primary showdown scenes take place very quickly at the very end. So…I guess I’d describe this book as an erotic, sadomasochistic novel with a sliver of plot action. 

     If you read and enjoyed Cat’s Lair, you’ll probably like this book, but if you are looking for a paranormal romance with a balanced hero-heroine relationship and a real plot, this one isn’t for you. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Wild Cat

                           WORLD-BUILDING                           
     This series tells the stories of a group of shape-shifting leopards, with locales ranging from the jungles of Borneo and Panama to the wide-open country of the American West to the swamps of Cajun country.

     Each male shifter meets and romances his soul mate as they fight off a series of predators, both human and supernatural. Angst levels are always high as a result of self-doubt, distrust, and miscommunication between each pair of lovers. Generally, each heroine is approaching the Han Vol Dan, a sexual awakening that occurs in young leopard-shifter females in this world. "Female leopards didn't emerge unless the human counterpart and the leopard both came into cycle at the same time. Only at that time could a woman's leopard emerge for the first time." (Leopard's Prey, p. 79)

     In each book, the story centers on the rise of the mating heat in the heroine, which tends to drive all males in the vicinity absolutely crazy. Each female heroine mates with the hero and then the two go on to solve the mystery posed in each plot. The male dominance and female submission can be a bit off-putting, but if you can get past that, the stories are told in Feehan's usual spell-binding manner.

     Christine Feehan is always a great story-teller, and she always includes lots of passionate (frequently raw) sex between the lead characters. Although the villain can usually be spotted by the reader well before he or she is unveiled on the page, the plots are still compelling. Each character, of course, has plenty of reason for many angst-filled interior monologues, mostly from terrible childhoods, but also from crippling self-esteem issues. I don't need to tell you much more than that. You've probably read some of Feehan's CARPATHIAN/DARK books, so you know that she's the real deal when it comes to paranormal romance.

     Click HERE to go to Feehan's "Leopard Series Research Page" on her web site. The books in this series have been published in a variety of media, including hard cover, paperback, audio, and e-book.

                    SUMMARIES OF NOVELLA .5 & NOVELS 1 - 4                    
     In the novella, "The Awakening," veterinarian Maggie Odessa takes her dream trip to Borneo to claim her inheritance, an estate deep in the rain forest. As soon as she enters the jungle, her Han Vol Dan (sexual awakening) begins. Maggie, of course, has no idea that she is going to shift into a leopard, but her soon-to-be-mate, Drake Donovan, is right there to help her through it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "The Awakening."

     In Wild Rain, Rachel Lospostos, a naturalist, hides from a mysterious and dangerous assassin in the rain forests of Borneo, where she meets up with Rio Santana, one of the leopard people. The couple realizes that they are meant for one another, but Rio has dark secrets and Rachel is approaching an awakening that she doesn't really understand. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wild Rain.

     In Burning Wild, Jake Bannaconni, another of the leopards, finally turns his back on his cruel and manipulative family and strikes out on his own on a ranch in Texas that was left to him by his grandfather. The early sections that detail the abuses of Jake's childhood are very graphic, in a stomach-turning sort of way. Since Jake has had difficulty with shifting (which was a huge bone of contention with his family), he goes off to the Borneo rain forest to find his heritage. There he meets several of the men who become part of his team (and stars of future books in the series). Back in the U.S., Jake gets involved with the pregnant Emma Reynolds, and they begin to fall in love. Since both the hero and the heroine have loads of unresolved issues from their pasts, the plot is extremely complex, but worth the effort to sort it all out. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Burning Wild.

     In Wild Fire, Conner Vega, yet another leopard shifter, is a native of the Panama rain forest. His soul mate turns out to be Isabeau Chandler, a Borneo shifter with whom he has had a failed relationship in the past. Although they know that they are true mates, they have remained apart—until now. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wild Fire.

     In Savage Nature, Saria Boudreaux has grown up wild in the swamps of Louisiana Cajun country. She knows that her brothers are leopard shifters, but they don't know that she has discovered their secret. When Saria finds several murdered men in the swamp, she notifies the owner of the land about the problem, and that owner turns out to be Jake Bannaconni from Burning Wild. Jake sends Drake Donovan, his top investigator (and one of the friends he made in Borneo), to Louisiana to find out what's going on. You can guess what happens next. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Savage Nature.

                         NOVEL 5:  Leopard's Prey                         

     Like book 3, this book is set in Cajun Louisiana, and the hero is the oldest brother of Saria, heroine of book 3. Saria has found yet another body in the bayous, a body that has the trademarks of a serial killer who has waited four years to kill again. These are grisly crime scenes, with the victim strung up on a tree branch, tortured, and finally eviscerated. The killer then removes a few bones from the body, including the left hand, and creates a primitive altar with black candles and a bowl of blood. Remy Boudreaux has been investigating these murders ever since they began, and he is disheartened to realize that he can anticipate three more deaths because the killer always butchers four men, takes a slightly different set of bones from each, and then moves on.

     What Remy doesn't anticipate is that Saria wasn't alone when she found the body. Accompanying her was the beautiful jazz singer, Bijou Breaux, who grew up just down the road from the the Boudreaux family. Bijou is sixteen years younger than Remy, but the two have always had a connection. Back when Bijou was only eight, Remy rescued her from some drug dealers who planned to rape and kill her, and he has been her hero ever since. Bijou's father was a dissolute rock star whose off-stage life of drugs and sex turned his daughter into a loner who distrusts everyone. She has been stalked all her life, first by deranged fans of her father, and later by some of her own fans, and she has come back to the New Orleans area to try to live a more normal life.

     The romance plot follows the usual path: Bijou is on the verge of her sexual awakening, which means that she will be shifting into leopard form for the first time. Of course, she has no idea that she is a shape shifter, so this is all a big shock for her. Remy realizes almost immediately that she is a leopard, and that she is his true mate. The romance story line follows the development of their relationship with all of the usual bumps and jolts and passion. Once again, Feehan gives us an animalistic, dominant male and a virginal, submissive female, so the "love" scenes are rough and raw.

     The action plot is problematic because Feehan has thrown in so many crimes, villains, and possible suspects that the book has multiple climaxes. By the time we get to the take-down scene for the final villain, the connections between crimes and criminals are so perplexingly convoluted that they frequently don't make much sense. If you just read at a bare surface level, the story is enjoyable enough. But if, like me, you attempt to untangle the plot labyrinth and try to assign means and motives to each villain, things get murky very quickly. This novel is a textbook example of over-plotting.

     Just one more small problem: In a couple of places, one character reacts to another character's words before that character says them. Here is just one example: On p. 10, Remy thinks to himself, "He could arrest Bodrie, but he'd lose his job, just as Bijou said." But Bijou hasn't said that yet. She doesn't say it until the middle of the next page: "Don't do it. If you arrest him, hell be out in an hour and you'll lose your badge." (p. 11) Someone at Jove should have caught these continuity errors before publication. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Leopard's Prey

                         NOVEL 6:  Cat's Lair                         
    The fifth novel, Leopard's Prey, had a complex plot and a relatively large cast of characters, but Feehan takes a different approach in Cat's Lair. Except for the beginning and ending chapters, the hero and heroine are all alone in an isolated cabin in the wilderness having constant sex—a familiar trope in paranormal romance fiction that is used primarily to set up alternating scenes of graphic sex and morning-after regrets, interspersed with lots of angst-filled interior monologues in which both characters over-think their previous conversations and interactions. Basically, the bulk of the book has no plotjust a succession of scenes throbbing with energetic foreplay and vigorous fornication. 

     The hero is Eli Perez (aka Ridley Cromer), who—at the beginning of the story—is an undercover DEA agent. He has the usual tragic childhood history—early loss of parents, tough upbringing in a series of loveless foster homes. He is also a leopard shifter. One detail that doesn't quite fit with this pitiful back story is the fact that at one point in the story, Eli explains that he can afford his beautiful wilderness home because "I inherited a lot of money. It was in a trust and I couldn't touch the bulk of it until I turned thirty-one." If there was money from an inheritance, there would have been an executor to handle the trust, so why was Eli dumped into the foster-care system? 

     We met Eli in an earlier book in a supporting role as a friend of Jake Bannaconni and Drake Donovan, the shifter who taught Eli how to get his inner leopard under control down in the rain forests of Borneo. Jake and Emma's ranch borders Eli's property. Jake, Emma, and a few other familiar shifters enter the story during the final chapters.

     The heroine is 21-year-old Catarina (Cat) Benoit, who has also had a rough childhood. When she was just eleven, her drug-addicted step-mother sold her to Rafe Cordeau, a vicious leopard-shifter crime boss in New Orleans who kept her in complete isolation. Each time Cat tried to escape from Rafe's clutches, he punished her by turning into his leopard form and attacking her. Although Cat is a leopard shifter, she has not yet reached the Han Vol Dan, the point in a female shifter's life when her human and leopard come into a fertility cycle (aka heat) at the same time and she makes her first shift.

     Cat has been hiding out in a small Texas town, working as a barista at a coffee shop/book store. When her cover is blown, Eli carries her off to his safe house, where they engage in an endless stream of repetitive scenes of passionate, explicitly annotated sex. Some sections read like pages from a manual on how to perform oral sex—filled with very clinical details and performance tips for the female. Eli, the alpha male, makes all of the sex rules and requires his female to follow them—all the time, no exceptions. 

     Although Eli is one of the good guys, his hyper-alpha, overbearing behavior is so over-the-top that he frequently comes across as a violent stalker rather than as a lover. Sometimes I pictured him in a wife beater shirt posing for a domestic abuse mug shot. He says things like this: "I told you, I like my way. My rules, my way. That's just how it is….It's that simple." In another scene, Cat has the audacity to lock the bathroom door when she goes in to take a shower, which infuriates Eli so much that he breaks down the door and screams at her: "Don't f***ing lock that door again, you hear me?…Not now, not ever. I don't give a damn how angry or upset you are, you don't lock me out of any room you're in." Then, when she tells him that he is hurting her feelings and asks him why he is so angry with her, he gets all needy and claims that he just wants her to initiate the sex for a change. This guy is a real piece of work—definitely in need of anger management therapy. 


     Although the threat of Rafe Cordeau hovers over the story like a black cloud, the resolution of that part of the plot is remarkably quick and dirty, consigned to a page or two at the very end. In this book, Feehan is much more interested in the long and lusty sex scenes, and she definitely takes her time allowing them to play out.

     If you enjoy reading endless scenes of erotic acrobatics, you'll probably like this book, but if you are looking for a novel with an actual plot, this one isn't for you. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cat's Lair. In the next book, Elijah Lospostos (one of Jake's crew) meets his true love, Siena Amotto, who is yet another unsuspecting young shifter female on the verge of her sexual awakening.